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France!

France!

Tasting at Louis Roederer including 02 and 06 Cristal with Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

Tasting at Louis Roederer including 02 and 06 Cristal with Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon

After an incredible tour of France(and Iceland), I’m back in the States. Over the coming days, I will be writing up my experiences with the winemakers I met with as well as other great experiences. I’ll kick things off with a few fun facts about the trip:

We drove over 1500 miles in 14 days

We visited 4 wine regions and met with 19 winemakers

We tasted over 150 wines

The oldest wine tasted was from 1966

We completed a high ropes course

We had a picnic at the top of Hermitage

We paid homage to Paul Bocuse at his namesake restaurant – 2 words, Truffle Soup

Overall it was an amazing experience and I’m looking forward to sharing lots of stories in the future!

Enjoying a picnic on top of Hermitage with a bottle of Hermitage

Enjoying a picnic on top of Hermitage with a bottle of Hermitage

Beyond Pinot and Chard

In Champagne, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the darlings of producers large and small, and for good reason. That being said, there’s a few other grapes don’t get as much attention or respect as these two.

Pinot Meunier, or this days just Meunier, is by far the largest and most important of the other grapes. There are plenty of fantastic examples of this wine made on its own or in blends. While I could write tons about just grape alone, for the purpose of this blog post I’m going to limit myself to just discussing Laherte Frères and 3 of the 100% Meunier wines they make as this line up inspired this post.

Aurelien Laherte is committed to this grape and has created and interesting set of wines all made from old vines in his home village of Chavot and neighboring villages of Mancy and Vaudancourt. The compelling part of this trio of wines is that each is a different color: Vignes d’Autrefois is white, Les Beaudiers is rosé, and La Troisième Vie is still red wine. Tasting them side by side is a fascinating experience because there are certainly commonalities between the wines due the winemaker, but Meunier certainly shows its true character as well.  If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

Rather than go through each wine and the various notes, I’ll share my thoughts on what I often find with this grape in general. For me, one of the most delightful flavors of Meunier is blueberries. Sometimes the blueberry note is subtle, other times it flies out of the glass. Sometimes its fresh but at others its more like the canned blueberry concoction packed with blueberry muffin mix. Its always blueberry though, anytime I get raspberries, cherries, or blackberries I know there’s Pinot Noir in the blend.

Beyond the fruit, other flavors I associate with Meunier are floral tones(usually white floral), gamey notes, earthiness, sometimes an herbal or savory tone comes through. In a great example of Meunier, these aromas are fantastic and in harmony. Unfortunately, at other times one of these flavors can stick out, marring what would otherwise be a delicious wine. This is particularly true of the gamey and herbal notes.

Along with this collection of flavors, Meunier often has a certain rusticity to it. Some in Champagne find this to be beneath their wines and avoid this grape. Others embrace it, realizing that it adds lots of character. Like the flavors above, sometimes it’s a charming component, but at other times it makes a clunky wine that shows its country bumpkin roots.  At their core I think Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are city dwellers who like dressing up and going to fancy galas. Whereas Meunier is more comfortable in the country. When its does go to the ball, it’s more like a Southern gentleman, obviously well dressed and sophisticated while retaining a sense of self in dress and manner.

Meunier based champagnes are well worth seeking out, and are regularly featured at Ambonnay, so get in here!

So This Happened

Recently a fantastic guest brought in the cutest little stubby to ever come out of Champagne – Moët & Chandon Petite Liquorelle NV. Prior to this, I’ve never even heard of this concoction, let alone tasted it. It was fascinating and bizarre.

Its not about how big it is, but how you use it!

Its not about how big it is, but how you use it!

According to the Old Liquor Company, this was an experiment that the folks at M&C designed as a ready to serve champagne cocktail comprised of champagne and marc de Chapagne, and a healthy dose of sugar. It debuted in the early 1980’s but was discontinued in the early 1990s due to poor sales.

Unfortunately there was no vintage or indication of when this oddball was released, but figure even if it came out in 1992, its still over 20 years old and only a 200ml bottle. It had significant tertiary notes revolving around coffee, madeira(in a good way), burnt sugar, and a bit of chalky minerality. It had only the vaguest hint of bubbles, but by no means could be considered sparkling. Definitely sweet, it was too much for most of us to take all but a sip or two. Glad I got a chance to try this little guy.

The bold red sash of a label recommends serving it very cold, which maybe back in the day was a good a idea, overly sweet, high alcohol cocktails are generally better that way. These days I’d serve it closer to room temp like a tawny port or madeira.

If you’re really intrigued the Old Liquor Company still sells this stuff, but at 60 euro plus shipping from England, I’d recommend about 100 other beverages first.

José Michel

1/31/14 Josė Michel 

This was a bonus visit due to rescheduling.  I've enjoyed these wines for years now, so it was great to meet the man and see Moussy also in the Coteaux sud d'Epernay,   Since I didn't have an appointment, I was only able to do a quick tasting.  Josė only stayed for minute and turned the reigns over to his son(apprentice?), clearly showing the estate is in transition, but hopefully the new generation will continue, or make it even better.   As we tasted and talked I found out they have some vines in Chateau Thierry at the far northwestern edge of Champagne The wines were delightful as always and the 2006 vintage is delicious.  I look forward to it arriving in Portland as the 05 is ok but not great.   A fun little bonus! 

Veuve Fourny

1/31/14 Veuve Fourny

In 2013 Charles Fourny came to Portland and did an event at Red Slate.  Due to the odd day of schedule shuffling, I had a some time at the end of the day and got lucky that Charles could see me.  It was interesting to visit another producer in Vertus, they're quite proud of their village, and definitely feel like they have something to prove since it's next to many famed grand crus, but is only premier cru itself.  

Charles took me out to the vineyards as well, but unlike my visit with Doquet, we toured the village's vineyards  as a whole rather than going in depth on a couple parcels.  Vertus has 3 distinct areas:  1.  Southern end which is more of a bowl or amphitheater with most southern exposure, this area is home to Les Rougemonts, Fourny's single vineyard rosė, as well as Doquet's parcels. Clay soils.  2. The midsection which is SE facing and parallels the southern end of the Montagne de Reims villages of Ambonnay and Bouzy.  Chalk based soils.  3. The northern end which borders Mesnil sur Oger.  East facing with lots of chalk.    Charles feels Vertus has lots of possibility due to these distinct areas and is underrated. Within all three of the sub zones, there were a lot of different. Hills and exposures, adding to the complexity and the need carefully select parcels.  That being said, Charles was quite proud of his parcels lower on the slope, whereas, Doquet thought this area to be lesser.   The final vineyard stop was at the Clos du Notre Dame, which is adjacent to the winery, it's one of the few Clos in champagne, and is planted with 70 chard, 30 Pinot.  Its plowed by horse, the same horse that plows Clos du Ambonnay, Clos du Mesnil, and Clos de Goisses, pretty serious group.  

After running around the vineyards, which have been organic since 1992, we went back to the winery which was quite modern and larger than I expected.  We tasted a bunch of vin clairs, both from the Cuvėe and the taillet the difference between the clay and chalk parcels were obvious the first being richer and more exotic, the later being more precise and salty.   Charles obviously had plenty of thoughts on winemaking but was less interesting in digging around in the details and just rattled of the facts that he thinks oxidization in bad, and likes a minimal approach with no lees stirring, racking, fining or filtering, and a low sulfur regime. ML happens for all rouge, but the other wines are on a year by year basis. As we talked and tasted, Charles thinks that most people under 35 in France are excited about the idea of terrior, etc whereas the parents just don't care much and want an easy champagne with a name they know.  

We moved on to the finished wines, and I was impressed.  Possibly because of the tour and barrel tasting, or possibly because of all of the visits but I found I really appreciated Fourny's wines this trip, particularly the basic wines.  The house style of fresh wines with high acid also became more obvious. A couple highlights:  Millėsime 2007 - the fruit comes from the northern end of Vertus and really showed the grey tones Roldophe Peters discussed in relation to Mesnil.   Millėsime 2008 - the 07 is good, and interesting, the 2008 was awesome! I can't wait for this wine to come to the states. Delicious, great acid, wow! Cuvėe R 08/07 base.  Impressive and compelling wine.  Another one I'm looking forward to seeing back home.  All oak barrels for 18 months but only 2-3 g/L dose so it was dense, creamy, and delicious but retained fantastic acid.   Unfortunately he was out of the Clos du Notre Dame, so I didn't get to taste it, but the visit was fantastic with lots of information on the terrior of Vertus.